‘Straight A Express’ makes another stop in city

Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland and school board president Ramon Montaño flank PED Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski during his visit to Rio Rancho Middle School on Wednesday.

Kudos, banners for 5 schools earning A’s

New Mexico Secretary-Designate of Education Christopher Ruszkowski was back in the City of Vision last Wednesday, as his “Straight A Express” tour reached its midpoint.

During the summer, one of the “Express’s” first visits had been to Rio Rancho, where Ruszkowski congratulated The ASK Academy for its grade of an A in the PED;’s latest round of school grading.

This time, Ruszkowski was at Rio Rancho Middle School to congratulate the principals of five Rio Rancho Public Schools buildings that also received A’s, each with at least two A’s in the past three years, and, in his words, to have what he termed a “pace-setter district … share why Rio Rancho schools are successful.”

Principals of RRMS, Mountain View Middle School, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Cleveland High School and Rio Rancho Cyber Academy — the latter two going 5-for-5 with A’s in as many years.

Having a sense of community at each school, along with passionate, dedicated teachers were the common denominators, it seemed, as well as paying attention to available data.

MVMS Principal Julie Arnold said one of her strengths is “hiring well,” with a “willingness to dive into the data … look at each individual child.”

She lamented that many of her teachers reached into their own pockets to purchase materials for their classrooms and students, and many come into the school as early as 6:15 a.m. and stay as late as 7 p.m., “and haven’t been compensated.

“Nobody’s going to get left behind,” she vowed, noting MVMS teachers’ passion for the kids and the goal to discover “what can we do well to make their lives better?”

Ruszkowski said he was interested in having the PED “do a better job at recruitment … and talk about our approach to recruitment.”

Arnold seemingly summed up the other principals had to say: “We all have the same things on our minds,” said Lynda Kitts, RRMS principal.

Cyber Academy attracted a lot of interest from Ruszkowski, impressed with that school’s string of A’s, much of it attributable to a low student-teacher ratio.

“People come from all over the country to see this school,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said. “Over time, we’ve learned what works” and the school has been able to “create an environment where (students) can be successful.”

Representing Cleveland High, instructional leader Matt George said the Storm’s success can be credited to the “overall sense of community that extends from the top down. … We truly have teachers who are passionate about what they do,” although he said, in light of the teacher evaluation process, “I hear grumblings from time to time” and he has a sense of low morale.

“Teachers don’t feel as valued as they were in the past,” said George, who’d previously worked in Albuquerque Public Schools. “I know teachers don’t feel appreciated, but they keep doing the work.”

Happy Miller, RRPS’s executive director of research, data assessment, data analysis and accountability, requested more instructional time and less testing.

“We’re adding more tests in less time,” she said, “(and) most-successful students struggle.”

Cleveland said, having addressed the latest commencement at UNM’s College of Education, she was worried about what the future holds for education. She said there weren’t even enough graduates to fill vacancies at APS and RRPS, much less the rest of the state.

“Twenty-eight (classrooms) never had a (full-time) teachers” during the 2016-17 school year, and thus relied on long-term substitutes or a series of subs, she said, although that number has been reduced to 16 for ’17-18.

RRPS Board of Education President Ramon Montaño said he’s confident Ruszkowski is focused on student achievement, and “He listens to us.

“The reason why we’re successful is the people in this room,” Montaño added. “This team is really passionate about what they do.”

Continued success, Cleve-land said, will be through holding principals accountable and having classrooms filled with qualified instructors.

Ruszkowski wouldn’t pledge to reduce testing, enhance the funding formula or enable the district to find more qualified teachers, and he said the pressure on RRPS will continue: “If we push from Santa Fe as the PED, it’s because we need you. This is a lighthouse district.

“You’re learning (best practices) from the rest of the country and learning from the rest of the state,” he said, noting that in his travels — his team was also to visit Bernalillo, Los Lunas and Belen that day — “people talk about Rio Rancho, a model district.

“The grass is pretty green here in Rio Rancho,” he concluded. “We have to tackle these challenges and barriers.”